January 1, 2017

1915: 6 Ft. Snow Drove Lions Onto Ranches--Hardly a Colt Survived


The winter of 1915 in Yavapai County was one of the wettest in the area's history.  Wave after wave of heavy moisture came through the Prescott area stretching all the way down into the Sonoran desert. (Ultimately, this unusually wet winter would change the ecosystem of the Prescott National Forest forever introducing the white-tail deer to the area.)

In the valleys, there were copious amounts of rain with Williamson Valley flooding several times.  Initially, ranchers were excited that "the ground was soaked to the grassroots" and they anticipated "one of the very best ranching seasons ever." (*1) However, this wet abundance would prove to be a two-edged sword.

In the higher elevations, the precipitation was snow--in unthinkable amounts for a desert climate.  In the mountaintops and passes it was up to 6 feet deep; unfit for both horse and auto.

Placer miners along Lynx Creek weren't heard from for days, even weeks in some cases. If it weren't for the railroad, Prescott would have been completely cut-off from civilization.

These extreme conditions were hard on the wildlife as well, and many large predators were driven by their hunger into the valleys, ranches and very near the city.


The wet winter of 1915 brought a new resident to the Prescott National Forest: the white-tail deer.


According to the Journal-Miner: a grizzly bear reportedly killed three steer on the upper Hassayampa River and was tracked "from west of Thumb Butte...to Bald Mountain (aka Glassford Hill) and it was heading for the lower elevations into Skull Valley...presumably to get out of the snow belt."  Reportedly, "the footprints of the beast indicated a monster in size." (*1)

A greater problem for the ranchers, however, was the mountain lions.  According to the paper, the winter snows were so severe that the cats were coming down out of the Bradshaws "in greater number than has ever been known." (*2)

"The hunger of the beasts is such that they are killing calves in great number, and it is estimated (that) fully 25% losses had occurred among that class of livestock. Practically every colt in the region has fallen prey to these vicious and cunning beasts, and the (economic loss to the ranchers) is deplorable." (*2)

Things got so bad that one horseback rancher "was followed by two huge lions to within a short distance from his home," greatly upsetting the unarmed man.  "Being without a gun and his dogs not being along created the impression that (the mountain lions) intended to attack and kill his horse for food."(*2)

The article concluded that the "rangemen are preparing to go into the field for a big lion hunt." (*2)

Indeed, the ranchers were ready for revenge. Within nine days, eighteen mountain lions were killed.  Each pelt brought a bounty of $10 from the state with an additional $50 apiece being ponied-up by the ranchers themselves--the total equivalent of $2400 per pelt today! (*3)

These hunts did cull the predators sufficiently for the ranchers to get back to their normal work and the valleys stayed green throughout the spring that year.

However, this would not be the last time mountain lions and ranchers would clash and large lion hunts would continue sporadically until the early 1940's and World War II.


The story of the harsh winter of 1864 and how the Miller brothers saved the settlement of Prescott, Arizona from starvation.



Sharlot Hall Museum has a number of archived photographs online showing some of the results of these hunts.  Often the animal's pelt was displayed.  Occasionally, fresh kills are shown hanging by the neck from a tree.  In several cases, the cat was larger than the hunter.  If you would like to see these photos, here's the link: Sharlot Hall Museum Photo Archive
These photos are mixed-in on the "Sports & Recreation" section of the archive.


Tourist Tips:

The finest hub for everything "Prescott History" is the Sharlot Hall Museum located near downtown at 415 W Gurley St. CLICK HERE for the Sharlot Hall Website See the exhibits inside the most historic buildings of Prescott.  An excellent and fun museum!  Also included on the website are special events, historical articles, and archives.



SOURCES:
(*1) Prescott Journal Miner; 2/23/1915, Pg. 5, Col. 3.
(*2) Prescott Journal Miner; 2/23/1915, Pg. 3, Col. 5.
(*3) Prescott Journal Miner; 3/4/1915, Pg. 6, Col. 3.


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